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Senate committee approves reauthorization of expiring Patriot Act provisions

[JURIST] The US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] voted 11-8 Thursday to approve [press release] legislation [S 1692 materials] reauthorizing three provisions of the USA Patriot Act [JURIST news archive] set to expire at the end of the year. The portions of the act to be renewed allow federal authorities to conduct "roving" wiretaps, compel the production of business, medical and library records, and designate suspects as "lone wolf" agents of a foreign power. The bill would also impose greater oversight on the FBI's use of its surveillance powers and would cause several provisions of the act to expire after another four years. At the opening of Thursday's executive business meeting [materials], bill sponsor and committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website] said:

I remain mindful of our responsibility to ensure both security and liberty as we proceed. All of us know that the threats to Americans' safety are real and continuing. Our bill will provide the tools that are being used to protect us, while increasing the protections of our vital constitutional rights, as well. The bill we consider today will serve to extend the authorization of the three expiring Patriot Act provisions requested by the administration. We also provide for increased Government accountability requiring audits and reviews of how these vast authorities are being used.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] criticized the bill [press release], saying it does not go far enough to protect civil liberties. The bill will now go before the full Senate.

Last week, a US Department of Justice (DOJ) official told the committee that the Obama administration supports the reauthorization [JURIST report] of the expiring provisions. The 2009 expiration date on Section 215, the "business records" provision, and Section 206, the "roving wiretap" provision, were set in March 2006 when the 16 key provisions [DOJ report] of the Patriot Act were renewed and 14 made permanent [JURIST report]. Additional civil liberties safeguards built into the renewal included allowing recipients of Section 215 subpoenas to challenge the accompanying gag order. In the wake of these amendments, the ACLU withdrew a lawsuit challenging Section 215 [JURIST report]. Despite the amendments, a federal judge ruled last year that imposing gag orders on recipients of NSLs is unconstitutional without judicial review [JURIST report]

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